How It’s Made: Kente Gentlemen’s Baoulé Fabric
For Abidjan-based brand Kente Gentlemen, only historic, traditional fabrics such as Baoulé or Senoufo will do for its signature tailored designs. Originating from Ghana’s Ashanti kingdom in the 16th century, the Baoulé fabric is part of the culture and heritage of the Akan people of Côte d’Ivoire.
Baoulé cloth is handmade by local artisans and weavers using techniques that date back centuries. The fabric is comprised of several strips of fabric interwoven with cotton, silk or raffia threads. The making of the Baoulé cloth has several steps, first the dyeing of the cotton, silk and raffia threads with natural dyes such as indigo, then the weaving of the threads into several strips, and finally sewing several strips together to create different sizes of the textile. Each step of the making process displays the elegant craftsmanship and timeless designs that deserve to be celebrated and worn in the modern era.
The cotton used to make the Baoulé fabric is produced locally in the northern region of Côte d’Ivoire. Traditionally, women work with the raw cotton, while men do the weaving. Before Baoulé became a common fabric, it was reserved for Akan kings and chiefs. Today, everyone can wear the clothing made from the textile on all occasions, especially during ceremonies such as traditional festivals and customary weddings, but it has preserved its prestige, as it is still synonymous with nobility and greatness.
First, the craftspeople, mostly women, use a drop-spindle tool to convert raw cotton into single threads or yarns. The yarn is then bleached to remove all impurities and dirt, and later exposed to dry under the sun.
After a few days, the dried yarn is colored with natural dyes, either mineral or vegetable-based, usually from indigo leaves or other natural plants. After being soaked in the natural colorant, the yarns are left to dry under the sun once again. Before the weaving process, the weaver decides what design pattern they have in mind and go on to actualize the concept by arranging the colored threads on two wooden stands, weaving according to what the final fabric should look like.
Once the colored threads are handwoven into narrow warps of textiles, they are then sewn together, edge to edge, to a form a full-length fabric.The individual number of warps typically ranges between nine or 11, depending on the expected length and width of the fabric.
For many local communities, making Baoulé fabric is the main source of income and revenue. In the small town of Sakiaré, it’s reported that about 95% of the villagers are weavers. The artisans are exclusively men because in the Baoulé ethnic group, the art of weaving is generally reserved for men. Transmitted from father to son or through an apprenticeship, it generally takes five to seven years to master the ancestral textile technique, and seven to 14 days to produce a piece of Baoulé cloth of less than two metres. The Baoulé have preserved this technique and perpetuated this knowledge to this day.